Sex, dementia, exercise and more

The fifth National Dementia Research Forum kicked off today with presentations on reducing one’s risk of developing dementia and another, more risque topic.

Above: Professor Rhonda Nay discusses sex and aged care residents with dementia at the National Dementia Research Forum.

By Yasmin Noone

The best brains in the business of dementia gathered in Sydney today to discuss, debate and learn how to put the latest research into the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease into practice, at the fifth National Dementia Research Forum

The key feature of day one in the two-day conference, hosted by the Dementia Collaborative Research Centre based at the University of New South Wales, was the entertaining and, for some, confronting, presentation delivered by Professor Rhonda Nay who is the director of TIME for Dementia run by the Study Centre for Victoria and Tasmania.

Diving straight into her talk on sexuality in residential aged care by asking members of the audience ‘who has had sex this morning?’, Prof Nay engaged attendees by making them put themselves in the shoes of the older residents they often care for and about.

Conceding that sex and older people is a sensitive topic, Prof Nay questioned whether the parents in the room have to ask their children for approval before they have sex. Given the answer was always going to be a no, she went on to make the point that the children of aged care residents need not be first consulted before ‘grown up adults’ engage in sexual intercourse – it is not something consenting adults do so why should care staff ask children about the sexual activities of their older parents?

The problem with older people and sex therefore does not lie with the resident themselves but rather with aged care staff, general practitioners and other medical professionals who are not comfortable with discussing the topic.

After 25 years working in this space, “I don’t think we’ve gone very far,” she said.

“Sex is everywhere but when it comes to [older people], we have problems sitting down and talking seriously about it.

“…Staff have difficulty talking about it, particularly the young ones who have difficulty imagining that older people even do it.”

Ms Nay then explained details about the pilot she was involved, which sought to develop an assessment tool to help people to talk about sex – in particular, aged care residents with dementia having sex. 

The study involved four residential aged care facilities – three metropolitan and one rural facility. Three of these organisations were not-for-profit, one was publically funded and one private company that was due to be involved withdrew its participation.

Commenting in good humour, she said that the organistion pulled out when “they realised what we were going to talk to the residents about as, of course, ‘that’ never happens in their organisation.”

The fifth National Dementia Research Forum was officially opened this morning by the Governor of NSW, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir.

The governor paid tribute to both the conference organizers and Alzheimer’s Australia and noted their passion to making a difference to the lives of people with dementia and their families, and their dedication to finding a solution, if not an Alzheimer’s disease cure.

She also emphasised the importance of uniting of key dementia advocates and workers in a forum like today’s because it portrays their true sense of commitment to the cause.

“Seniors are an important group who must never be forgotten,” Governor Bashir said.

The conference introduction then continued with a presentation by President of Alzheimer’s Australia and well known media personality and business woman, Ita Buttrose.

Ms Buttrose used the opportunity, and the fact that it is currently Dementia Awareness Week, to call for more funding and political action to introduce a national dementia strategy and restore dementia as a National Health Priority beyond 2013.

“The need for better community awareness for dementia and is as great as ever, and in recent times, more so,” Ms Buttrose said.

“…In my view, national action on dementia is long overdue.”

The issues surrounding dementia however, are not isolated to aged care but rather they extend well across the entire health sector.
She said it was “disappointing” that the concerns of Alzheimer’s Australia, carers and people living with dementia have, to-date- been largely ignored by government and urged politicians to “listen up and act”.

Ms Buttrose closed with an invitation to attendees to join in on the Alzhemier’s Australia march on parliament house, Canberra, on October 13 to demand that the government restore and increase dementia-specific funding and make the disease a National Health Priority.

Referring to the new “Fight Dementia” campaign, she reaffirmed the organisation’s resolve to achieve its funding aims and make politicians stand up and take notice.

“If anyone has any doubts about our determination to achieve our goal, let me assure you that we are taking off the velvet glove and putting on the iron fist.”

The fifth National Dementia Research Forum, at Sydney’s Wesley Conference Centre, aims to showcase the work of the country’s three Dementia Collaborative Research Centres, provide attendees with an update on the latest research in diagnosis, treatment and management, and give new researchers a platform to gain skills and develop their ideas.

Plenary sessions on mind and body exercise; exercise and cognition; comorbidities of dementia; and updates on the research being carried out across the three centres were also held as part of the conference today. 

International keynote speaker – professor of psychiatry at McGill University (Montreal, Canada), John Breitner from Canada – will present tomorrow morning on how to prevent Alzheimer’s dementia and whether or not it is a realistic goal.

5 thoughts on “Sex, dementia, exercise and more

  1. Having worked recently in aged care facilities, Ihave noticed that residents are not permitted to enter the room of another resident. This means that all interaction happens in the common space. There are married couples who share a room but for those wanting to form a new relationship within the facility, the opportunity is slim

  2. I work in Aged Care as an independent Transition Consultant. I help people transition into care among other things.

    I look after elderly who have no family members or whose members just do not visit them. I shop for them I take them out and this year I wish to expand my business and for the Astralian elderly who were active participants in the Australian culture I want to ensure they can maintain going to the ballet and the theatre etc.
    Seems we got carried away with cultural diversity and forgot about the people who helped the country get to where they are today.
    Let ne add I was born in S.Africa but lived here for 25 of my 50 years. I consider myself to be Australian and for the future we need to improve elderly services not only certain pockets, but generally speaking, there is a serious ratio problem in our nursing homes low or high care.
    We need to loby seriously to get the ratio increased aged care workers come into the field and are leaving at such a steady pace due to being overworked and frustrated as not being able to accompish tasks in time required.
    It seems as tho we are moving at such a pace the elderly cannot keep up and the stampede has begun and it is the elderly who are being trampled.

  3. the issue with intimacy between residents has never been an issue for my staff. However there can be difficulty with residents who have dementia who form frienships & intimacy with fellow residents when their spouses are still alive thus creating problems. It is very hard for spouses to observe this & feel very rejected that they are not even recognised during visits.
    I admire Rhonda Nay’s advocacy but please don’t tar us all with the same brush. Many of us have been supportive of intimacy for years, we just don’t trumpet it. I use the word intimacy as ‘sex’ sounds cold & uncaring

  4. Not only intimacy, but the dignity of the aged all round is taken away when they enter a home. Family put an aged person in a home when they get to the point where the person needs more care than they can give them, but, in fact, most inpatients of homes are given less care – only the lowest economicaly based care to keep a person alive and run the home at a profit. Little respect is given to their likes and dislikes, friendships and relationships as a person. They are put into nappies because staff do not have time to toilet them when needed, and even then nappies are not changed until used to the maximum fullness. A simple drink of water when needed just does not happen. Sure, they are given a jug of water and a glass, but if the inpatient is unable to pour and drink it by themselves, then too bad. After living on a farm, growing their own vegies, raising chooks and looking out over rolling green hills, patients no longer can have a fresh soft boiled egg (OH&S states the yolk has to be hard cooked) or a fresh, homegrown strawberry, or lettuce. Everything has to be OH&S sterile. These people are at the end of their life, why is such protection necessary when they have taken that risk voluntarily all their life. And as for the view, very often the view is just 4 confining walls, or a ‘garden’ of landscaped cement. Nursing home staff cannot possibly meet the needs of walking a person through a garden, sitting with them in the sun for a few minutes, getting them a drink of water, taking them to the toilet, even showering them EVERY day (every second day is seen as enough – I personally shiver at the thought of it). We need to rethink aged care totally. There has to be more help for families caring for an aged person in their home and more help for the aged to stay in their own homes, and more serviced group homes where friends look after each other. My experience is that group homes are fairly successful, but more servicing is needed for meals, transport, visiting medical services etc. These people are the people we love, the people who have looked after US all our lives. They deserve better.

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